When we think of Greece, we usually imagine holidays at sea or in the shade of antic ruins. But what do the Slovak - Greek literary relations look like these days? Do you know who is the most translated Slovak author in Greece or which Slovak books were published there? How do you say Pištáčik in Greek? Could you name one book by a Greek author that you have recently read in Slovak translation?
Together with the Slovak Embassy in Athens and with translator Mária Kozelnícka, we have prepared an inspiring overview mapping out the relations of the two countries within the realm of literary culture. Read the interview in which Mária Kozelnícka talks to the key figures from the world of publishing and literary science, or listen to its original edition.
In the following interviews, two of Mária Kozelnícka's guests inform us about Slovak books that were recently published in Greece and also about the titles about to be published there. Her third respondent talks about the physiognomy of contemporary Greek poetry since Kiki Dimula's book of poetry is coming out in Slovak. You will find out that over the last three years, Slovak literature has found its place in Greece. The first interview features Mr. Nestoras Poulakos from the publishing house Vakchikon.
M. K. (Maria Kozelnicka): Mr. Poulakos, hello and welcome.
N. P. (Nestoras Poulakos): Thank you. How are you.
M. K. In July 2018, your publishing house has published a book titled Theater Plays, by Dodo Gombár. It was your first contact with Slovak literature. How did it come about? And could you say a few words about the book?
N. P. In the summer of 2017, Athens have hosted an event where Slovak theatre was presented. It happened within the collaboration that at the time existed with the Festival of the Book in Zappio and the organizers of the theatre event. Both events took place at the same time and they were attended by three Slovak authors who have visited Athens. Soon after, a translator suggested to us that we publish Dodo Gombár, an important Slovak writer and director. Our publishing house is interested in different types of literature and it specializes in theatre - both Greek and world theatre - so we were inclined to accept the offer. We signed a contract with Dodo Gombár and the translator Jorgos Papajanakis and in July 2018 the book titled Theater Plays which contains three of Gombár's best known plays, Money, Between the Paradise and Her and Euroroom, all succesful in Slovakia where they were performed. It is true that the response to this edition has been positive, the book was distributed to all theater schools and producers, mainly in Athens. We hope soon we will be able to see the play on a stage.
M. K. In September 2019, the book “Antológia mladej slovenskej poézie”(Anthology of Young Slovak Poetry) came out in your publishing house. As far as I know, the book is part of a larger project. Would you tell us more about it?
N. P. Of course. One of the projects of our publishing house is called “Anthologies of Young European Poets." We have a platform on www.youngpoets.eu both in Greek and English language where we feature all books with the names of the compilers. This project is supposed to run for 5 years. It started in the summer of 2018 and it will end in the summer of 2023. It aims to publish 55 books from all European countries and in all European languages. It's at the 25th book as we speak, so roughly midway through. Aside from publishing the books, the project features different events, platforms etc. Young Slovak poets - and other outstanding European poets bellow 40 years of age - who have published several poetry collections have been selected for the project. We were pleased to publish the Slovak anthology as second. The Slovenian anthology was first, then the Slovak one. The reason for this is the contact with SLOLIA we have established when we were publishing Dodo Gombár's book. SLOLIA is a program that supports the publication of Slovak literature abroad and we have established a really good collaboration with the people responsible for this project. So it was quick and easy to also establish a collaboration on the publication of the Slovak anthology.
M. K. The book Prílivové udalosti by the Slovak poet Mária Ferenčuhová comes out almost at the same time as the Anthology of the Young Slovak Poetry. How did you pick this particular poet?
N. P. One thing led to another. SLOLIA has suggested Mária Ferenčuhová for our collaboration on the young poetry anthology and she was kind enough to be the compiler of the book. She is a famous Slovak poet in Bratislava and an extraordinary person and artist known abroad as well. Her books have been translated to English and to other languages. It was natural for us to publish her own poetry collection.
M. K. You also plan to publish a fourth Slovak book, this time it is the poetry of Mila Haugová. What is behind this selection?
N. P. In the last years, we were able to establish a book series that is quite popular in Greece. It's called "Poetry from All Over the World" and it presents mostly contemporary poets from different countries. Then we translate the best of them into Greek for the first time. Mária Ferenčuhová's book has been selected for this series and since we have acquired a close relationship to Slovak poetry, we have found out about Mila Haugová, one of the most important poetical voices of the moment in Slovakia and we approached her. Our collaboration with her has just started and we are very pleased with it. I believe the book will be ready to be published by the end of 2020. We are glad that well-known Slovak poets are being translated into Greek and we expect this tradition to flourish.
M. K. The collaboration with the Slovak colleagues and with the Slovak Literary Center is stable.
N. P. Precisely.
M. K. Last November, you visited Bratislava as part of your presentation of the “Anthology of the Young Slovak Poetry." Was it the first time you have visited Slovakia? What did you think of the city and of the country in general?
N. P. First of all, I really have to say that the collaboration with our colleagues from the Literary Information Centre is truly exceptional. I wanted to say this and applaud their professionalism because it's not always like this in other countries. On the side of the young poetry anthologies, we aim to organize cultural events since these anthologies are bi-lingual. In the case of Bratislava, it was suggested that we present to book with the presence of the Greek ambassador at the literary festival called Autoriáda, held at the end of November in Bratislava. It was a fantastic event with our whole team present. We have met with some of the poets and with Mária Ferenčuhová. I wish more events like this would be organized in the future. It was the first time we have visited Slovakia and Bratislava and I think it's suffice to say that it is a very pretty city that deserves to be visited by people, Greeks included, of course.
M. K. Unfortunately, poetry is not the type of literature that is easily sold. More so when it comes to less known - albeit extraordinary - poets. What can a publisher do to help the situation? Is it solely up to marketing strategies of the publisher or are there other factors that can help?
N. P. Poetry, as you know, has its particular circle of readers. It doesn't sell easily even when the marketing and promotion strategies of the publisher are well thought through. What counts is who makes the selection. Not any publisher can start publishing poetry when they haven't developed their reputation and their readership first. The publishing house Vakchikon has worked on this, we have been publishing poetry for years and have thus gained a certain specialization, especially in Greek poetry and, in recent years, also in foreign poetry. We publish contemporary, not classic poetry so we have built a brand. We are now known as the publishing house that publishes quality poetry, Greek and world poetry, and so whatever selection we make, our readers - whose numbers are growing, we noticed - follow us. Of course we support our books with marketing and promotion and it's also important to collaborate with various foundations, institutions and so on, to have a circle of helpers who are interested in poetry and in getting poetry books to people.
M. K. Finally, since we are talking mainly about poetry books, I would like to ask which Slovak poet that you have read so far is your favorite. Could you compare the author to a Greek poet?
N. P. Well, my contact with Slovak poetry is limited. I mean, so far I have read The Anthology of Young Slovak Poets, the poetry of Mária Ferenčuhová and the poetry of Mrs. Haugová. I find these poems extraordinary, they are dynamic and they reflect our times. I found that the differences between contemporary Slovak and Greek poetry are minimal and also that the problems of Slovak and Greek poets are similar. I don't believe that they can be indentical, one author resembling another, but I do see that Slovak and Greek poets have the same vision and that they share the same line of problems they are concerned with.
M. K. Mister Poulakos, thank you for this interview. I wish you further success in your work.
N. P. Thank you and best wishes to you, too.
My second guest is my colleague Mrs. Ariadni Moschona who is responsible for children's books in the Greek publishing house Kedros.
M. K. (Maria Kozelnicka): Hello Mrs. Moschona, welcome.
A. M. (Ariadni Moschona): Hello and thank you.
M. K. Would you be so kind to introduce the publishing house where you work? It has a rich tradition of publishing literature for children.
A. M. Kedros publishing was founded in 1954. It has been active for 65 years straight and since its very beginning, it has focused on publishing literature for children. It is a big part of our publishing activity and we are proud of it. We collaborate with many authors of children's books, both Greek and foreign. Let me mention some of the Greek authors with whom we work continuously, or rather, with their work, as some of them had passed away, e.g. Evgenios Trivizas, very well known in Greece and abroad as well, Κira Sinou, one of the most important children's books authors about whom we will talk in more detail a bit later, Evgenia Fakinou, Zoi Valasi, Maroula Kliafa, and many others. Literature for children presents one of the most important portions of our overall activity.
M. K. Slovak literature in general is mostly unknown and unaccassible to Greek readers. The reasons are probably mostly linguistic.
A. M. Yes.
M. K. The same is true in reverse, although not absolutely. You first became acquainted with Slovak literature for children two years ago. What was your initial reaction?
A. M. I thought it was great. First of all, I want to say that I owe it to you, Mrs. Kozelnická, that I have come into contact with Slovak literature for children because you brought in the LIC catalogue. Based on its contents we had a discussion and leafed through some books. Your role in all this was crucial. As I was leafing through that catalogue, I noticed something that made me look up the websites of certain Slovak publishers and I found out that the literature for children is of very high quality, esthetically. They are quality editions prepared with a lot of energy and this you notice even if you don't know the language. These editions are far from the homogeneous globalized esthetics that we usually encounter. They are quite sophisticated and it needs to be said that LIC is responsible: they show how professional they are by making excellent choices and by presenting the books in an effective way, with descriptions and English excerpts. They make it easy for a foreign publisher to get acquainted with Slovak literature and overcome the language barrier. And of course, it's pure luck to meet someone like you who is willing to introduce the books with more detail.
M. K. Mrs. Moschona, thank you for your kind words.
A. M. Thank you.
M. K. That initial contact has translated into a publishing contract and produced the publication of Dušan Dušek's book "Pištáčik". This is THE book within Slovak literature for children. You have already read the entire Greek translaton. What did you think of it? How would you describe it?
M. K. I'd say it's fantastic. We can't wait to share it with the Greek reading public. I also believe that it's one of those books that is loved not only by children but also by parents - and that doesn't happen too often. It's a blessing when it does. Beyond the philological aspect, let's say that the book combines - in a lovely way - realism with elements of magic and playfullness with both elements of seriousness and with the sweet melancholy that is typical for growing up. We all remember the phases of childhood when we felt this sweet melancholy. I also sensed a tenderness and a deep and honest love to humans, animals, to nature in general in the book. It really touched me from the beginning and thanks to your translation, as I was getting deeper into the text, I realized I happened upon a real treasure. The book is divided into three parts. Pištáčik goes on various adventures: in the first part mainly within his neighborhood and his town, in the second part he ventures out to see the world and he travels through space and time, and in the third part we witness Pištáčik's wedding.
M. K. Which book would you compare Pištáčik to?
A. M. It's true that from the first moment on, a comparison with three authors came to my mind. Their works have formed the canon of children's literature and these are the authors: the Italian Gianni Rodari and two German authors, equally famous, Otfried Preussler and Michael Εnde. We are pleased that books by all three of them were published in our publishing house, some of them in more than one edition. So next to them, at the top of children's literature, is where I see Dušan Dušek and his book "Pištáčik".
M. K. Do you believe that this collaboration around children's books that has begun not long ago (two years), will continue?
A. M. I have no doubt about it. Well, it's one of our priorities and short-term plans. We are, however, facing some problems connected with the recent time period that proved quite challenging. But we do plan for it. We really wish to continue in this collaboration.
M.K. We are both waiting impatiently.
A. M. Yes.
M. K: Even though our times have proved challenging for the sales of certain types of literature, the children's book seems to be an exception. It looks like it still has a relatively bright future ahead. What do you think is the purpose of children's books when it comes to raising children readers who end up being readers of literature for grown ups?
A. M. Well, I don't even need to say it - scientists have said before that to be in contact with books is the most important factor in forming the future reader. The fact that children read books means we will have adult readers. I also like to say that if the children get the reading bug as soon as possible, they will carry it in them for the rest of their life. Even if at times certain pauses in their reading occur due to various reasons, e.g. studying, work, falling in love. It's much more difficult vice versa - when someone didn't read as a small child, it gets more difficult to discover reading later in life and to get enamoured with it so intensely. So I do think it makes a difference.
M. K. Beautifully said.
A. M. Thank you.
M. K. To finish our interview, I want to ask about your favorite book.
A. M. That is an extremely tough question, especially for someone who works with children's literature professionally.
M. K. That I can imagine.
A. M. Within our interview, which I want to thank you very much for, I would like to say a few words about a book that I consider very important and that I think has not yet been appreciated as it should be. It's called "In the land of the Mammoths" and it was written by Kira Sinou. The book talks about prehistory, about the Stone Age in Greece and it introduces the reader to two children who had lived 35 thousand years ago when homo neanderthalis was trading place with homo cromagnon, when there were mammoths, bisons and wooly rhinos roaming through the Greek territory. I find this book important because it reads nicely for both children and grown ups and because even though written in 1977, it remains fresh. This alone is an important factor: it is timeless, ecumenical and it talks about things that concern the whole humanity. Its author was a courageous woman. Born in Russia, she came to Greece as a young child and even though Greek wasn't her first language, she had mastered it so well that she soon began to write books. Also, she had the guts to pick a topic - in 1977 when most books were mostly plot-driven or mentioned antic Greece or fighters from the national resistance or were closer to the presence in general - that other authors haven't touched and she wrote a sci-fi novel that also proved to be a great story.
M. K. Very interesting.
A. M. Yes, I wanted to mention her because I don't believe that she was given her dues, even though she broadened the field of topics within children's literature in Greece and at the same time, she wrote in a very pleasing way without compromising the quality of language and style.
M. K. Mrs. Moschona, let me thank you again - very much - for this interview.
A. M. Thank you. I really enjoyed this interview and I hope so will our listeners.
The third and final interview is with the poet and professor of Romaic literature, Mr. Nasos Vayenas.
M. K. (Maria Kozelnicka): Mr. Vayenas, hello.
N. V. (Nasos Vayenas): Hello.
M. K. In 2019, selected poems of Kiki Dimula, titled "A Romantic Disagreement" were published in Slovak language by the Czech publisher Malver. I would like to ask a couple of questions about the work of this important Greek poet who has passed away not long ago.
N. V. Dimula really is our great poet and has enriched our poetry.
M. K. What do you think was her contribution to Romaic poetry?
N. V. Look, the poetry of Kiki Dimula presents a paradox, it's bi-polar. Nobody gets her poetry immediately. Her poetry is difficult. Despite all this, Kiki Dimula is very popular even with fellow poets and she is known outside of the circle of stable poetry readers. She's even popular with the larger public. Isn't it strange? Her poetry must have an element of enchantment.
M. K. What is that element?
N. V. I'd say it's a new "flavor" that she has brought into our poetry, doing something difficult and at the same time simple. She has broadened the contents of poetic imagery. This, I believe, is where she is novel. Dimula was able to encompass within poetic imagery - aside from images since metaphors usually mean images - also ideas and terms that are abstract: the unknown, the necessary, guilt, endurance, the unreachable. Often, she capitalizes these words as if she is trying to underline their meaning. She managed to do this because, as she has proven, she does not think these ideas and terms, she feels them. I think this is something new within our poetry. As if she was presenting them as something material, something tangible. At the same time, she has extended the use of this metaphor to a maximum endurable degree within a poem. This metaphor has become the basic element of her poetry.
M. K. This really is novel. In any case, she must have also continued along the lines of the Greek poetic tradition.
N. V. I didn't mean to say that metaphors of abstract meaning hadn't existed in our poetry before. They did, but in a much lesser extent and as a secondary element of poetic imagery. However, in Dimula's verses, this element becomes the engine of her poetic language. If we tried to pinpoint her poetic predecessors, I think we would come up with two names, Elytis a Kavafis. With Kavafis she shares the element of prosaic poetry, or, more specifically, the ironic element that contains the prosaic in itself. This element functions in the way of being touching to us. With Elytis she shares the abstract imagery. However, he uses it much less and it is covered by the lyrism of his verses.
M. K. Which book of hers do you consider the best?
N. V. It's hard to answer such question. Except for her first collections in which Dimula tries to formulate or even discover her poetic voice, we see that her collection "The Little of the World" impresses with both her novelty and the stability of her poetic language. We could say that the title of this book, when we compare it to her first collection "Erebos," points to a territory that Dimula tried to explore in all her books that came afterwards, up to the last one.
M. K. Mr. Vayenas, my sincere thanks to you for this interview.
Many thanks to our listeners as well.
Warm greetings from your host, Maria Styliani Kozelnicka